07 July 2008

Back in the Saddle

If you've heard the word grief you've probably heard of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's five stages:

1. Denial
2. Anger
3. Bargaining
4. Depression
5. Acceptance

Here's what you might not know: these stages are not linear. You can spend some time on one stage, then cycle back to an earlier stage. You can get caught in a seemingly endless loop between a couple or among a few stages. You can think you've moved on only to find that you've stepped back. If you're grieving more than one thing, you can experience multiple stages at the same time. The grief can be nested; I went through all five stages of grief over John's initial diagnosis, and now I'm working through the stages of his death.

I woke up the other day, surprisingly clear-headed, and realized that I'd spent over a year in Denial. I thought that I'd left Denial behind long ago. Come on, my husband is dead! I used to see him every day, now I don't! I used to call him on the phone, now I can't! How could I possibly be in denial when every second of every day of my life contained a reminder that he was gone?

Alas, I had an incomplete understanding of what denial really is. A few weeks ago, I found Crash Course Widow's blog. In one of her posts on grief, she talks about numbness. As I nodded my head while reading, it occurred to me that numbness and Denial were the same thing. I did not feel much during the year following John's death, mostly because I had too many other things to attend to. In the weeks and months after John died, there was an endless amount of bureaucracy to handle. And, of course, Maddie and Riley. They took up so much of my energy that I did not have much emotional space left to process the reality of John being gone. Forever.

It seems that lately, when I'm not writing about sleep, I'm writing about anger. I had been attributing my anger to sleeplessness, displeasure with my job, and the stress of raising the twins on my own. I'm sure all of that plays a role. But along with realizing that I'd been in Denial for so long, it occurred to me that perhaps some of the anger I have been feeling is Grief Anger. I was having a really hard time getting Riley to go to bed one of the nights that my mom was here last week. As I sat on the couch with her and listened to Riley cry and talked about how hard it all is, my mom gently reminded me that parenting is hard for everyone, even parents for whom it's not a solo gig. "Yes! I know!" I screeched. "But I'm also fucking pissed that John died! And it's exhausting to feel that way all the time!"

Well, OK then. Welcome to Stage 2.

Anger for me is not an isolated emotion. Along with the anger, I get a lot of guilt (Did I do enough to help John when he was sick? How could I have yelled at a guy who was dying?) and resentment (How could John leave me like this? Why has my life turned out this way?) I'm mad at John, but guilty that I feel that way. I'm mad at myself for taking my anger out on the twins. I'm jealous of my friends whose husbands are alive and well. It's one big, ugly stew of emotions.

The good news is that since realizing that my anger had less to do with Maddie and Riley and more to do with grief, my patience with the twins has been much greater. I've been kinder to them, and kinder to myself. It helps that we worked through some of the sleep issues while my parents were here (knock, knock, knock). It also helps that the kids have been doing and saying such funny stuff. The other day, Riley asked for batteries for his penis (!) Both of them are obsessed with having their fingernails painted. They are all about water play, and they can do all kinds of things at the park that make my heart stop.

I've taken almost a week off from blogging, unintentionally. I just didn't have anything to say. Hopefully my voice is coming back.


Anonymous said...

Figuring out what some of the feelings are, and then what is causing them, is no doubt a crucial step in working through them. And it has got to be hard, hard work. Hugs to you.


sappho said...

Your voice is coming back, snick. That was an amazing post. The same stew of emotions, including the guilt at the anger and the jealousy, are common for abuse survivors (of which I am one). While I've only been at this for two years, it does seem to get a bit better, although the progress feels like it could be measured in nanometers sometimes.

I'm so glad you've got such a good support network, though. And Mad & Ri. It makes all the difference in the world, even when it seems sometimes like it doesn't.

I LOL'd, literally, when I read about Riley's request for batteries for his penis. Kids are AWESOME!

lots of love & good vibes from the Great White North,


Julia said...

You know, for me it was that way with anxiety-- I needed to name its source to be able to get over the feeling, to be able to deal. I am sorry you are in the anger phase-- it can't be fun at all, but I am glad you were able to name it and, it seems, start getting a handle on it.

Can I ask, though, what does Ri-man plan on doing with his newly motorized penis?

mlg said...

Brilliant. Why is it so obvious, now that I read about it, that the stages do in fact overlap, circle back and repeat as frequently as they want.

It would be nice if they actually did happen in order. While we are at it let's make each last a perscribed amount of time, none to occur during holidays, birthdays or PMS.

Glad your voice is coming back.. I missed you...

Astrogirl426 said...

Ahh yes, the stages. I'm a big fan of acknowledging where you are in the grieving process, and accepting the fact of your being there.

DBT (dialectical behavior therapy) has a concept they call the "logical mind". Basically, it's the idea that often when you are depressed, or grieving, or going through any strong emotion, one of the ways we deal with it is by trying to shut down our emotions and go through our days taking care of the things we need to, like going to work, taking care of the kids, doing housework, etc. We push our emotions down, suppress them, instead of processing them.

It sounds like you're doing some great work, on some very hard stuff. Glad to hear things are improving kid-wise, too. :)

luna said...

this is a great post. it's true the 5 stages are not linear -- some say it's more of a spiral -- you go through yet keep revisiting different aspects of certain stages, e.g., anger or anxiety, sadness/depression, etc.

I saw a grief counselor after losing my son to stillbirth. she had lost her husband at age 36 and trained under elisabeth kubler-ross to become a counselor. she told me a story about meeting EKR, and trying to convey the significance of the stages to her own grief work (e.g., the importance of being able to identify and name what she was going though). elisabeth took her hand and looked her in the eye and said, "my dear, I hope you have more than that. that is only the beginning..."

acknowledging all those feelings is so critical. but as you know the work is every day...
all the best to you.

Rachel said...

Great insight. It is so true that we cycle through the stages again and again. I'm glad things are going better on the sleep front. Riley is hilarious!

Cheryl Lage said...

Such an artfully insightful post, Snick. This was necessary for me to read for reasons innumerable and impossible to explain.

Suffice it to say, THANK YOU.

Wishing you continued clarity, and ever-increasing moments of abject joy.

buddha_girl said...

I admire the insight you have even when you're all twisted in the damn stages of grief.

It often takes me so long to realize what I'm TRULY feeling and WHY...and I end up in a cycle of beating myself up for not having realized it earlier. Blah.

I'm proud of you. Period. And batteries for Ri-Man's penis? I have a feeling, if it was socially acceptable, that Buddha would willingly send Ri-Man a package of AAAs!

Fishsticks and Fireflies said...

Thank you so much for such a wonderful and insightful post! Your loss of John and my loss of my daughter (after 5.5 months of pregnancy) are so very different, but I find a lot of comfort and solace in your thoughts, and I find myself nodding in agreement quite often. I agree with Luna in the feeling that I am spiraling through the cycles rather than sliding from one to the other, and with Buddha_Girl in that it is always after-the-fact that I realize that my anger is grief-driven.

I hate the 'new normal'.

Badger said...

I too remember hearing about Kubler-Ross's five stages a long time ago and thinking of them (if I thought about grief at all) as just that: a linear progression that moves from one through five. My experience with the stages has been much more of a zigzag -- as you say, you move "forward" and then find yourself, sometimes because of a trigger but sometimes for no apparent reason at all -- "back" dealing again with a stage you thought you'd survived.

For me, frankly, the depression was the worst and the hardest stage to get through. I'd like to say I'm at the acceptance stage now, but maybe that's just bargaining. ;)

Much love to you, as always, Snick.

Bree said...

Thanks for another great post. I have struggled with depression and anxiety for years and I'm thinking I'm heading back into a cycle right now. I find it follows a similar cycle to the stages of grief - certainly the denial ("Who me? I'm fine, fine, fine"), anger ("why am I like this?" to general irritability with everything), and then the next few stages throughout.

I read somewhere that depression is anger turned inwards, and that helped clarify my feelings to a certain extent. I know when I'm depressed or anxious I tend to live in a numb state too, just existing day to day, but the little things about parenting piss me off. I'm trying to focus more on the day to day joys - 2 year olds are hilarious! I'm terrified I'll wake up some day and big chunks of my life will be a blur and I'll only remember the anger and guilt, or that my child will remember that more than the good times.


Nancy said...

I just started reading your blog about a month or so ago, and I'm not sure what to say because there's no way I can even remotely comprehend what you're going through. But I wanted to let you know that this was beautifully written, and it helped me to understand a little. I'm so glad that you had that moment of "ah ha!" - I'm sure that's helped tremendously.

jenn said...

Wow, it sounds like you've taken a huge step. It's such a cathartic feeling to realize why we're feeling what we're feeling. That was a lovely post.

OTRgirl said...

Well said! You're so right.

The analogy I developed about deep grief is that it's like being swept out to sea over and over. You don't know what ocean you're in until you finally realize, as you did, 'oh, anger! I'm filled with and surrounded by anger!!' It seems like sometimes that realization is enough to get you back on shore, at least for a moment. Then you're swept out into another one. It's exhausting, and as you said, not necessarily linear.

Sandi said...

Again, I feel like we are living parallel lives.

moo said...

I'm glad you understand that you can experience all -- or none -- of her stages. That's one of the beautiful aspects of it ... it's ok to feel however you feel.

We're here ... and we hear.

Aimee said...

Welcome back! I've missed you and am glad you have discovered something new about yourself. Would it be weird if I said, "Congratulations"?

I've been trying to deal with my own anger issues lately, too.

Anonymous said...

Batteries for his penis! That child is adorable! Widowed myself, 14 years ago, I can relate to your description of the stages of grief and how they overlap and reappear all the time. Just want to reassure you that you will get through it! Please seek help from a support group and/or counseling if it feels too overwhelming. Nothing says you have to find your way through this alone or with people who can't relate. You won't be "weaker" for having help. Your friends and family are a great source of support, but there's much strength to be found in those with shared experience. In the meantime, stay focused on the joys your and his twins bring you. And thanks for this marvelous blog!

Anonymous said...

Give yourself extra credit for all the times you are patient and aware of the funny and cute things they say and do.

As a child, I didn't understand my Mother's sadness and anger all the time. I was too young to remember the death of my father. As I got older, our history was a bond we shared along with the battle scars of those early years getting through it. Together.

Remember, they are in this with you. They always will be.

You and the twins are in my prayers.

Anonymous said...

My ex, who I still cared a great deal for, was killed in a car accident about 1 1/2 years ago. Before that I did not know grief could be so complicated - now I think any list of the "stages" should come with a disclaimer that it just means you will feel all these things, at any time, in varying degrees, in any order, for much longer than you think you will. And the only advice I would give to somebody who's worried they're doing grief wrong is to try to treat yourself like you would treat a very good friend in a similar situation. You have not been "stuck." You're just getting through it the only way you can.

Karyn said...

Welcome back! I've missed your posts (even though I'm pathetically irregular about posting, I expect others to be... Sorry.). I continue to learn so much from you--what an insight that moving through the stages is not linear. Regardless, it all sounds like a bitch to get through. I'm so sorry. I wish for you lots of support as you move through each stage, both cyberly and actually, and I hope I am one who finds ways to help in some ways along the way. You are an amazing woman and mother--and I'm not just saying that. I feel lucky to know you.

bostongirl said...

Your post is so honest and poignant. Thank you for baring these feelings.

There is much to say, but little that comes out as I want it to. So know that I am thinking of you and resonating with these feelings, too.

django's mommy said...

I'm all over the place these days, but anger? Check.

I have recently found Candice's blog, too, and I love it. I find so many of her insights to ring true, as I feel when I read your blog.

Threeundertwo said...

Thank you for opening your emotions and honesty. I can't imagine what it would be like to lose my husband. I did lose a brother, and it is something that continues to rise to the surface in different ways even years later. EKB's book was huge for me. It really helps to be able to recognize the stages for what they are - part of the whole package.

Wishing you continued strength.

Shari said...

Hi Snick. I came across your blog after the CNN article. I, too, lost my husband. He was 33, and I recently turned 27.

In the last four months and still now, I never feel like I am properly grieving. I know it is a process and am probably still in the numb(denial) stage. I just feel chided when his mother asks if I've cried yet. I have cried, but they don't match her histrionics (which is a whole other issue I won't get into).

But reading your blog seemed to come as a response to a conversation I was just having with my mother...and now I can see that you and I are "normal."


mames said...

ack. i am always really amazed at your honesty and ability to share this time with us, your readers. and i think though the anger is there, your ability to identify it and its source may give you the ability to move through it. and i am happy to hear the riley and maddie are making you so happy, batteries for his peepee...haha. so good.

Sylvie said...

Great post. I haven't had a chance to comment in awhile, but I am often sending good thoughts your way. Keep on Snick.

MetroDad said...

Sounds like you've turned an important corner. And while I can't even begin to imagine what you've been through, I'm glad to hear that you're back in the saddle again. Having two adorable kids must be a great help!

Sandy said...

After reading this post, I've been going through my day thinking about all of my misplaced anger...

Boy, life is tough! But thanks for the very thoughtful and helpful post.

Keen said...

It sounds so strange to say I'm happy for you...not happy that you're angry, but it just sounds like quite an epiphany and it sounds like good things will come of it.

Lots of love, and I'm here for you for whatever, whenever.

Anonymous said...

Dirge Without Music- Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, --- but the best is lost.

The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

it's one thing to understand that the person you loved is gone, it's something completely different to accept it gracefully. don't ever feel guilty for your feelings...they're just proof of how much you love, how much you fight to keep that love, proof of how unresigned you are to life and death being so very very unfair.

from your posts, anyone can see that you are a beautiful soul and a passionate person who has a gift of helping others find inspiration and hope. i hope that you continue to grow and continue to be kinder to yourself as you realize what a gift you've given the rest of us.